Monday, April 27, 2009

All Football Is Local

It's late April, which means that spring practices have concluded. Recruiting has concluded for the class of 2009, and a new class is around the corner. But there's an ongoing gap in football recruiting that needs attention, and it's not limited to Coach Kelly's tenure but has been ongoing for years. You'll see a lot of names from Ohio, from Texas, from Georgia. What you don't see are a lot of names from the District, from Maryland, or from Virginia.

Like charity, recruiting starts at home.

Over the past month, I've been doing some research on the Georgetown basketball teams of the 1960's. Most of you haven't heard much about them because, well, they were good but never truly great--Georegetown didn't win a single post-season NCAA or NIT game for from 1943 to 1978.

"On the one hand, Georgetown was a parochial school and had a ferocious desire to win games, perhaps as a way of cocking a snook at the WASPs," wrote Sports Illustrated's Bil Gilbert in a 1980 article. "On the other, it admired the gentleman-sport tradition of the Ivies, the concept that young gentlemen without a lot of undignified training could dash out on the field and whale the tar out of their opponents for the greater glory of the dear old blue-and-gray.

"In the 1920s and '30s, Georgetown was a genuine collegiate athletic power, especially in football. After World War II bigtime football became too expensive and too demanding, and the university abandoned the sport in 1950, a blow to pride from which many old Hoyas have never fully recovered.... Eventually Georgetown's athletic ego depended largely on how well the basketball team did. Usually, it did badly. Occasionally, Georgetown would pull off a glorious upset, but these triumphs were too infrequent to compensate for all the defeats. Usually, the teams were a bit too slow, a bit too small and, to get to the heart of the matter, much too white."

But it wasn't simply black and white. It was a matter of zip codes.

The Georgetown basketball teams of the 1960's were almost exclusively kids from schools in Northern New Jersey, a Philadelphia Catholic League player here, a WCAC kid from Gonzaga there...and that was about it. That's not a knock on the St. Peter's Prep and Don Bosco alumni out there, because some of these players were quite talented, but with so much other talent within an hour of the campus, Georgetown passed on every major DC basketball star of the 1960's, many of whom played games on its very campus.

What would Georgetown have been like with John Thompson, Dave Bing, and John Austin in the 1964 lineup? Or Bernie Williams, Austin Carr, and Tom Little in 1966? Bob Lewis went to high school just one block from the Georgetown campus, but he became a first team All-American 275 miles south in Chapel Hill, NC.

As it relates to football, Washington DC isn't the football hotbed it has been in basketball, but there's local talent that either Georgetown's isn't reaching or, more likely, they aren't reaching back.

Ten years ago, Georgetown had 18 local kids on the roster and went 9-2. The 2008 football roster contained just seven, with only one from Washington DC. To put this in perspective, five of the seven schools in the Patriot League had more local DC kids on their rosters than Georgetown did. And while the Georgetown admissions model isn't expecting 25 or 30 local kids on the roster like Lehigh and Lafayette are accustomed to, the visible lack of any local talent feeds on itself in other ways, from a lack of public interest in the program, a lack of press coverage, and a lack of commitment by talented local kids. When Jordan Scott or Nick Hartigan wanted to go to college, they went elsewhere.

To borrow a basketball line tossed Georgetown's way from Billy Packer, "I think they need a superstar. Why would a superstar go there?"

Is there a connection in all this? Some researchers at Mercer University think so. They have developed what is called the "College Football Recruiting Prediction Model" which annually predicts college choices for about 70% of the nation's top high school recruits each year. They wrote, in part,

"There were a number of factors that we thought would significantly impact the decision of the high school athlete that didn’t. For example, factors like the school’s graduation rate, the number of Bowl Championship Series (BCS) bowl appearances, the current roster depth at the recruited player’s position, the number of players from a specific college drafted by the NFL, and even the number of national championships won by a particular program don’t systematically influence the decisions of high school athletes. Surprised? So were we. What, then, does matter? As it turns out the following factors DO significantly impact the decision of high school athletes:

  1. Whether the athlete made an “official visit” to a specific college

  2. Whether the school is in a BCS conference

  3. The distance from the high school athlete’s hometown to a specific school

  4. Whether the recruit is in the same state as a specific school

  5. The final ranking of a specific school in the previous year of competition

  6. The number of conference titles a school has recorded in recent years

  7. Whether the school is currently under a “bowl ban” for violating NCAA rules

  8. The current number of scholarship reductions a school faces for violating NCAA rules

  9. The size of the team’s stadium (measured in terms of seating capacity)

  10. Whether the school has an on-campus stadium

  11. The current age of the team’s stadium

So, in a nutshell, high school athletes prefer winning programs that are
close to home, are in possession of good physical facilities, and are in good
graces with the NCAA

Georgetown has always recruited nationally and will continue to do so. Many of its greatest football legends came from places outside the Beltway, and that's fine. To rebuild this program doesn't require local talent, but it's a region other schools are hitting early and often, and Georgetown has not kept up.

At present, the unofficial 2009 list has just two local recruits.

In a city that can say "We Are Georgetown" all winter long, are there not more who will say it in the fall?